Sats: Under one in four pupils reach expected standard in science


The Standards and Testing agency published their “Key stage 2 science – sampling 2016” in July 17.

In this they reveal that only an estimated 23%, fewer than a quarter, of 10 and 11 year olds’ reached the expected standard in science during 2016.  The sample was statistically significant with over 9,500 pupils represented across 1,900 schools.

Other points the report highlights are:

  • There is no gender gap; boys and girls perform equally
  • Pupils on free school meals perform badly with only 9% reaching the expected standard (compared to 25% of those not on free school meals)

The report also say: “As there was a large overlap of questions between the 2014 and 2016 administrations, outcomes can be reported on the same scale. However, any differences in performance between 2014 and 2016 must be considered in the context of the changing primary curriculum.”

Empiribox opinion
In 2009 the government scrapped the science Sats on the basis that they were a poor predictor of children’s later science results.  After a lengthy consultation period a new curriculum was then introduced in September 2014 and at the same time the sampling methodology was changed, sampling fewer children but across a greater number of schools.

Given the appalling decline in science outcomes – graduate scientists – for the last generation and the exponential growth in demand for a STEM qualified workforce worldwide, we believe the new curriculum is a fundamentally important step in helping the UK to stop haemorrhaging its science heritage and to start  encouraging more young people to take up the challenge of a STEM career.

The reason we believe this is because the curriculum, instead of focusing purely on knowledge, actually challenges children to understand the scientific method and develop scientific skills.

This is a significant challenge to the status quo and in our opinion essential if we are to take children from year 6 into secondary school and expect them to be enthralled by and engaged with science.  We know this is important because Empiribox was founded by, and employs, experienced secondary school science teachers who struggle from the moment they face a new year 7 with building on the raw talent so inherent in people that age.

We are proud of the results our pupils achieve with their science – see our results page.  Importantly, we see no gender barriers and we see both free-school-meals and special needs pupils as engaged, and therefore progressing, as any other children.

Most important though, we believe with all our hearts that young children are naturally curious and naturally engaged if exposed to real and practical science; it helps across the curriculum, across the school and most of all enhances their life chances.


Brian Cox – “Primary Science – investment would be best value for money”

“One of the most cost effective things government could do”

On the 14th of November 2016, CaSE celebrated its 30th anniversary by hosting an event on science and engineering over the next 30 years, hosted by the University of London, Senate House.

This clip is from the second session, featuring an ‘in-conversation’ discussion between:
Professor Jim Al-Khalili OBE, Professor of Theoretical Physics, University of Surrey (Chair)
Professor Brian Cox OBE, Advanced Fellow of Particle Physics, University of Manchester
Jo Johnson MP, Universities, Science, Research and Innovation Minister.

A question about funding for primary schools was asked by Empiribox Director, Ivor Tucker. Professor Cox gave an extended answer saying how important primary science is and stating quite clearly that investment in this area is one of the most cost effective investments government could make.

The evening was recorded and live streamed thanks to the support of the Open University.  See the full recording here.

Sir Michael Wilshaw, Ofsted’s Chief Inspector, comments on the study of science in primary schools.



Sir Michael WilshawIn his latest commentary [May 2016] , Sir Michael Wilshaw says that the emphasis in recent years on English and mathematics at key stage 2, while absolutely essential, should not be at the expense of other important subjects. He believes that compulsory subjects like science and modern languages have become the ‘poor relations’ of the primary school curriculum. However, these subjects, when taught well, can boost literacy and numeracy skills and raise standards in English and mathematics. Evidence from recent Ofsted inspections and feedback from teachers, parents and pupils have highlighted a number of common concerns surrounding the provision of both science and foreign languages at key stage 2. Sir Michael says that a sharper focus needs to be placed on these subjects to make sure that children leaving primary school are better prepared to meet the more rigorous academic challenges they will face at secondary school.


Last autumn, in the first of my series of monthly commentaries, I reflected on the strong performance of England’s primary schools and the steady rise in the number of pupils achieving well in their national curriculum tests at the end of key stage 2. I remarked that over 60,000 more 11-year-olds left primary school in 2015 with a good command of English and mathematics than just 3 years earlier. I also said that these improved test outcomes were supported by Ofsted’s own inspection findings. Our latest statistics show that 87% of primary schools were judged as good or outstanding at their most recent inspection.

There is little doubt that the main factor driving this success has been the strong emphasis on improving the basic knowledge and skills of primary school pupils in reading, writing and numeracy. However, a number of recent studies have suggested that this focus on the so-called ‘3 Rs’ has pushed other compulsory subjects, notably modern foreign languages and science, to the margins of the curriculum in many primary schools. (See Primary science: is it missing out? – recommendations for reviving primary science and Language trends 2015/16: the state of language learning in primary and secondary schools in England.)

This is a concern because the government has said that it wants the vast majority of pupils who started secondary school last September to take the full suite of English Baccalaureate (EBacc) subjects, including science and a foreign language, when they come to sit their GCSE examinations in 2020. This drive to raise the academic achievement of our young people is a laudable ambition but undoubtedly a very challenging one.

In 2015, less than half of all pupils studied a foreign language at GCSE and, although science is a core subject that should be studied by all pupils to age 16, only 74% of pupils took it to GCSE level to qualify for the EBacc. It seems clear that if the government’s ambition is to be met, primary schools will need to lay the foundations in these subjects before their pupils move on to study them at secondary school.

With this in mind, Her Majesty’s Inspectors (HMI) reviewed the quality and breadth of provision in science and foreign languages in the primary schools inspected in the last two terms. Evidence was drawn from 340 routine inspections (234 with a focus on science and 106 with a focus on foreign languages). In addition, we took into account the views of hundreds of parents, teachers and pupils.

HMI found that the majority of primary-age pupils enjoy studying science and having the chance to learn a foreign language. However, inspectors also found weaknesses in the provision of both subjects. In particular, in too many schools they found:

  • a lack of time allocated to the study of science and foreign languages
  • a lack of teaching expertise, particularly in respect of foreign languages
  • poor working arrangements with partner secondary schools that failed to ensure effective transition and progression

Lack of time allocated to the study of science and foreign languages

In around two thirds of the primary schools visited by HMI, pupils spent less than 1 hour per week learning a foreign language. Many school leaders and classroom teachers told inspectors that the time available to devote to this subject was often seriously constrained and their school was struggling to squeeze foreign language lessons into an already tight curriculum.

Some of the parents we surveyed echoed this view. One commented that: “Due to lessons being sporadic, there doesn’t seem to be much content and my son never feels like he is progressing.” Another remarked that the study of foreign languages at their child’s primary school “is only given token attention”.

While the vast majority of schools were spending 4 hours or more each week teaching English and mathematics, none devoted a similar time to teaching science, the third core subject on the primary curriculum. Around two thirds indicated that they spent between 1 and 2 hours a week on science teaching. However, for around a fifth of the schools, less than an hour was given to learning the subject. In one case, pupils said that they couldn’t remember the last time they had had a science lesson.

Lack of teaching expertise, particularly in respect of foreign languages

The generation of teachers entering the profession in recent years was not, in the main, required to study a foreign language to GCSE. This has resulted in a shortage of language specialists at primary school level that can only be addressed through significant investment in the professional development of staff. Just under half the teachers who responded to the HMIquestionnaire said that they lacked confidence in their ability to teach a foreign language to their pupils.

Some of the schools we inspected employed a peripatetic language teacher to make up for the lack of specialist subject knowledge within the staff room, although this type of support was not always available.

Inspectors found that teachers’ lack of confidence and subject knowledge tended to be less of a problem when it came to science than for foreign languages, with the majority of primary teachers having studied the subject at least up to GCSE. Nonetheless, HMI found that the quality of science teaching was variable and that there was a link between teachers’ subject knowledge and how well pupils were developing their scientific skills.

Poor working arrangements with partner secondary schools failed to ensure effective transition and progression

As our report Key Stage 3: the wasted years? highlighted last year, transition between key stages 2 and 3 is too often poorly managed. It found that teaching in the first 3 years of secondary school often fails to build on the skills and knowledge pupils have gained at primary level.

HMI found that this absence of effective cross-phase working was a concern in around half the schools inspected in relation to foreign language learning. As a consequence, inspectors were told that when children started secondary school, many either repeated what they had learnt at primary school or found themselves studying a new language altogether.

One parent commented:

My son was taught French at primary age, but changed to Spanish at high school, making the French almost a waste of time. The schools are within a mile of one another! I would like local schools to communicate better so that the language they have been learning at primary can be continued through to high school.

For science, inspectors found that in just over half the primary schools inspected, pupils were not well prepared for the rigours of key stage 3. Schools must work more effectively together across the phases to ensure that pupils move seamlessly from primary to secondary, building on and quickly extending the knowledge and understanding of the scientific method necessary to study science successfully.

Not an ‘either/or’ situation

Inspectors found that the best primary schools are capable of providing effective teaching in science, foreign languages and all other subjects, without undermining pupils’ progress in literacy and numeracy. It should not be an ‘either/or’ situation. The best primary schools recognise that providing excellent teaching in subjects like foreign languages and science promotes good literacy and numeracy skills. This complements, rather than detracts from, the focus on English and mathematics.

In my years of experience as a headteacher, I often found that good language and science teachers were among the best at engaging with children and instilling in them an abiding interest and curiosity in the subject. If children are ‘switched off’ by poor, unchallenging lessons, this is likely to have an impact on the future take-up of these subjects. We must therefore ensure that primary-age pupils are inspired by effective teaching of science and foreign languages, from properly trained and qualified staff, and that the pupils’ enquiring minds and natural curiosity are nurtured.

It is fair to say that in recent years, Ofsted’s inspections of primary schools have prioritised the quality of provision in English and mathematics. In my view, this has helped to bring about the improved performance and standards I referred to at the start of this commentary.

However, the evidence from this recent investigation has convinced me that we need to put as sharp a focus on the other subjects as we do on English and mathematics. As a result, I have reminded inspectors that they should always be looking closely at the subjects of the wider primary curriculum, including science and foreign languages, as set out in the inspection handbook.

We need to ensure that primary schools are preparing pupils effectively for the more rigorous academic challenges that they will now face when they reach secondary school.

Over half of primary school teachers say science is getting squeezed out

The CBI has revealed the obstacles that primary schools and teachers have to overcome if they are to inspire future generations of scientists and engineers.

[Download the full report, © Copyright CBI 2015]

The UK’s leading business organisation has published new research showing that the majority of primary teachers believe science has become less of a curriculum priority, with over a third of schools now providing less than the recommended two hours of science education a week.

The report co-authored by Brunel University London, the CBI reveals:

  • 53% of the 260 primary school teachers surveyed by the CBI believe teaching science has become less of a priority over the past 5 years (32.5% say it has not changed, 14.5% say it is now more of a priority)
  • A third of teachers (33%) lack confidence when teaching science (13% felt very confident, 54% were confident)
  • 62% want more professional development to build their confidence while 39% called for a science subject specialist within their primary school
  • Over a third (36%) of schools teaching science at Key Stage 2 in the survey do not provide the minimum recommended 2 hours of science education each week. Only 20% are able to commit over three hours, while 7.5% of primary schools teach under one hour each week.

John Cridland, CBI Director-General, said:

“Science education in primary schools is being squeezed out, with over half of teachers believing it has become less of a priority with too many schools struggling to teach the recommended two hours every week.

“How can we expect to inspire future generations of scientists and engineers if we don’t deliver high-quality and inspiring science lessons at primary school age? If we are not careful, too many children will have lost interest in science before they hit their teens.

“A lack of science, technology, engineering and maths skills are already holding back economic growth and this will only get worse if we don’t energise the next generation. Pupils need innovative, fun lessons with access to the latest science kit and need to break free of the classroom more to visit cutting-edge companies and universities.

“We must also seriously tackle the persistent cultural problem of pigeon-holing boys and girls into certain subjects and career paths. Schools can have a big impact here, influencing not just pupils but also parents.

“The idea that the education system is successfully inspiring the next generation of scientists and engineers is fantasy.”

The CBI argues that the situation has been mainly driven by the abolition of testing at Key Stage Two and the upshot of a system obsessed with exam results, not the real world skills future scientists, technicians and engineers need to master. Importantly, testing has been maintained for English and maths, and though we do not want a return to SATs for science, we must ensure that science teaching in primary schools is highly valued.

The report also finds that over 70% of primary school teachers want more support from business. Of those, three-quarters would find it helpful for businesses to offer use of their equipment and facilities. Over 60% would like support from companies in lesson delivery and arranged class visits.

The Report outlines a series of recommendations to overcome the challenges of boosting science in primary schools:

  • The UK and devolved Governments must set targets to have the best performing schools for science in Europe – and in the top five worldwide – by 2020.  This should be underpinned by a new science education strategy – covering primary, secondary and tertiary education
  • Primary schools should ensure professional development for science is of a high standard and carried out regularly to build the confidence of primary teachers to deliver high-quality science lessons
  • Teachers should be encouraged to spend more time with businesses and universities to enhance their understanding of scientific theory and its practical applications
  • All primary schools should have a subject leader for science in place to drive forward the subject as a priority in each school
  • Businesses and universities must divert more of their outreach resources to primary schools and not focus purely on secondary. The new Careers and Enterprise Company in England should include primary in its remit and should be funded for the term of the next Parliament.

Professor Julia Buckingham, Vice Chancellor and President of Brunel University London, says:

“We are pleased to produce this important report with the CBI.  The report’s findings – indicating that STEM subjects have become less of a priority in Primary Schools in recent years – should be a wake-up call for everyone in government, business and education.  None of us should be in any doubt of the critical importance of ensuring that the education system inspires interest and enthusiasm for the sciences and provides careers advice and guidance as early as possible for school students. Not only does the nation’s prosperity depend on this, it is also vital to ensure that educational and careers opportunities are not prematurely closed-off for young people.

“The work we are doing at Brunel University London to address the shortage of highly qualified STEM teachers, develop innovative approaches for the teaching of mathematics and launch the national STEM Outreach Centre for school students, demonstrates our commitment to playing an active part in promoting the teaching of STEM in Primary Schools. We are clear that it is our responsibility to work with schools in advancing this agenda and that business has a vital role to play as well.  The scale of the challenge requires that we must all work together.”

Russell Hobby, General Secretary, National Association of Head Teachers:

“An understanding of science is needed to understand and thrive in the modern world. As the CBI’s report makes clear, this learning is best begun early. Yet primary schools are constrained – by narrow accountability targets and the need for their teachers to be masters of all trades, teaching science with the same confidence they teach English, maths, history and sport.

“We should, as the report recommends, offer maximum support to primary schools and make sure we judge them fairly on a broad and balanced curriculum.”

[Download the full report, © Copyright CBI 2015]

Developing ‘scientists of the future’ is launched

An innovative and inspiring new approach to teaching and learning science in primary schools has been launched in the UK.

Empiribox provides teachers with access to all the equipment they need. The Primary Science Equipment Suites, with accompanying exciting Schemes of Work and Lesson Plans, is a unique concept which, the team that developed it says, will enhance the teaching and learning of science in primary schools.

“In a nutshell,” says Empiribox director Dan Sullivan, “it provides the platform for the delivery of affordable and practical science lessons throughout the year for KS2 pupils in years three to six.

“The vast majority of class teachers in K1 and KS2 have no graduate science qualifications and often no science A level qualification either,” he explains, “so they are often uncomfortable and ill-equipped to deliver high quality lessons, effectively planned and structured, and with appropriate equipment.

“Science teaching at primary school needs to be exciting and interactive. That can only happen if teachers feel confident in the science role and Empiribox makes learning fun and relevant for pupils – that’s probably its greatest benefit.”

Sullivan says the best science teaching and learning support currently available to primary schools is that provided through the STEM centers.

However, he feels there are a number of limitations to this provision, including awareness, cost, time and training.

“Empiribox provides imaginative, engaging and fun schemes of work for every teaching week over four years. Training and support for teachers is provided by trained and experienced science teacher-trainers, and there’s access to full class sets of all the latest and traditional teaching resources.”

And in addition to ongoing Continuous Professional Development in science for primary teachers, the newly-launched scheme has a number of significant advantages for pupils.

Empiribox summarises these as –
• Teaching and encouraging children to ask and test scientific questions
• Developing ‘Investigative skills’
• Stimulating enthusiasm for science
• Enhancing understanding of the ‘scientific process’ particularly the limitations of experimental design
• Enhancing literacy and numeracy through real data and experiments which they own!

“For the schools the removal of stress, time and anxiety around planning the annual science curriculum and lessons for KS2 is removed; this is very important for non-science qualified teachers.

“Empiribox improves the confidence of non-specialists in delivering effective lessons; that in turn boosts the school’s results in the core science skills they need, leading to improved league table results and greater popularity and funding,” Sullivan points out.

The Empiribox system has already been trialed in 21 schools in Norfolk, Suffolk, Kent and London.

“Enthusiasm for science is generated in children from an early age” says Sullivan, a qualified scientist and former head of secondary school science departments.

“Empiribox is designed to inspire children to continue science learning into secondary schools and beyond. It’s an excellent grounding in science for participating primary school children.

“I also believe it’s a crucial first step towards creating first-rate scientists of the future, which will help the UK to maintain a technological advantage in an increasingly competitive global market.

“Improved awareness, knowledge and teaching of science at primary level significantly enhance transition skills, knowledge and understanding for primary pupils entering secondary school.

“We have found that the most cost effective method of participation is in clusters of three schools, working together to share one trolley each per term per subject; biology, chemistry and physics.”

For further information about this release, product details, interviews and photographs, please contact Simon Brian at Epic Communications on 0116 261 6898 or 07507 554612